Durga Puja is the greatest festival of the bengalis. Almost an entire year is spent in the preparations to welcome the Goddess.This is what Vir Sanghvi once wrote in the Hindustan Times : "A man in Delhi once asked me "What is so special about Durga Puja In Kolkata? It's just as big as Diwali is here in the North''. I simply smiled and replied 'You have no idea'. Waiting for my late evening flight to Mumbai at the airport, I thought that there probably isn't any festival in any city in the world that can match Kolkata's Puja in intensity. You can take the craze of Diwali in Delhi, Christmas in London, Summer Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Valentine's day in Paris and then add it to the month long madness of Olympic Games or the World Cup and cram all that into a span of 5 days and you still wouldn't know what you are missing if you haven't been in Kolkata during Durga Puja"
Here are 10 reasons why I think the best time to visit Kolkata is during the Pujas :
1) The Pandals : The pandals are the most prominent things in the city. It is not without any reason that kolkata is known as the cultural capital of the world. 3-4 months prior to the Puja,sometimes even more you will see these huge structures coming up in the city building the suspense in the minds of the people as to what 'theme'it would be this time. Yes, the pandals , the idol of the famous pujas are all based on a theme. Thousands of pandals all over the city and its simply amazing how every year they come up with a new theme. Not only that prizes are given away for the best pandal, best theme, best artist, best idol and what not.
2) Street Food : Bongs are the ultimate food lovers. Durga Puja is also a celebration of taste buds. While the rest of the country goes on a strict vegetarian diet for the 'NAvratri', bengalis indulge more into mouth watering non veg food. Chicken roll, mutton roll, mughlai paratha, cchowmein, jhalmuri, egg,mutton , chicken chops adorn the road side stalls. Not only that biryani, kebabs, chilly chicken , manchurian chicken at unimaginable tastes and prices are made by the road side.So if you are a hardcore non vegetarian,and are really down and depressed cos of all the navratri veg eating, Kolkata is the place to be.
3) Bengali Sweets : After Ganguly, the two most famous bengali products are mishti doi and rasogolla. But don't be fooled , there's a vast range of bengali sweets that are still waiting to be explored by the outside world. Next time you are here, ask for nolen gurer sondesh, mal pua, jol shash, mihidana , shitabhog, chhanar jilipi and the list is endless. Or better, just walk into any sweet shop and eat your heart out.
4) Bengali Fashion : Wearing the traditional tant sarees, Shakha pola complete with gold jewellery, red vermillion bindis on forehead, the women truly are a reflection of the Goddess.The men aren't far behind in starched dhotis and punjabis and kolhapuri chappals.
5) The crowd : The streets of kolkata see the maximum crowd on the streets during these four days. The intellectual, the fashionista, the budding politician in starched cotton punjabi, the culturally inclined, the school-goers first time out without parents, the para leaders they are all out there together. Watching the crowd, walking with the crowd , being part of this huge crowd is an experience in itself.
6) The lighting : This has been there ever since I was a child and it's not just small chinese bulbs hanging from the terrace of the houses. The street lighting put by the puja pandals all have astory to tell, sometimes it's about current affairs, mythology or just a social message like plant trees. Like i am quite sure of catching Mary Kom in quite a few light stories this year.
7) World cuisine all in one place : There is not a single kind of cuisine you won't find at kolkata.Chinese, thai , lebanese, you name it and we have it.But beware, no matter what the number of choices available, the true foodie that a bong is , you will find absolutely no place without a huge waiting time in any of these places. Park Street and Tangda are a must visit place.
8) Time travel to old Calcutta : North Calcutta has not allowed anything modern to encroach their traditions and erode away their ideologies. THe pujas follow no theme, the idols have the traditional 'Daaker Shaaj' dressed in pristine white, the pandals are nothing fancy , the old Rajbaris like Shobhabajaar RAjbari have been doing durga Puja since hundreds of years now. A visit to the narrow lanes of north kolkata is hence a must do.
9) The city never sleeps : These are the 4 days when Kolkata doesn't sleep. It's awake all 24 hours, its celebrating every minute and people just do not get tired.Even at 3 in the morning there will be hordes of people walking in and out of Pandals.
10) Bishorjon : The last day of the Puja is when the idols are immersed in a water body. People march the streets in procession, women have 'shidur khela'', they put mishti on the mouth of the Goddess and ask Maa with teary eyes to come again soon next year. A befitting end to a truly magnificent festival.